Appetizer. Salade de chévre chaud et sa galette de sarrasin. Frisée aux lardons et son oeuf poché.
Feast. Canard aux pruneaux. Ris de veau grand mére.
You can probably tell from piecing together random French that we had salads (one with warm goat cheese and a buckwheat? pancake, and another with a poached egg and bacon. For the main course, duck with prunes was on the menu, as well as veal sweetbreads in a pot of sweet potatoes and mushrooms, cooked with a dash of heavy cream (I think. No one’s gonna give out the secret ingredient here).
We decided to eat at Le Trumilou after we spent a couple of hours around the Notre Dame de Paris, taking god knows how many pictures. The majority of my time was observing the architecture, and perusing my list of “must eats” in Paris (probably more the latter than the former). By the time we were done obliterating our cameras’ memory space, I was pretty starved. We hungrily crossed the river and ducked into Le Trumilou, which was said to be known for its authentic French food, sans ridiculously high-class snobbery and tourist apathy.
I’m not sure if it was kind of odd for a bunch of Asians to walk straight into a legitimate, authentic, foreign restaurant, but I guess if there was any indication of it, the French were great at being stoic about it. After all, they were known for their friendly service and lovable, huggable qualities. They seated us, gestured and pointed out things in broken English (and us back in piss-poor near non-existent French), and eventually got our order out.
I have to say, this was one of the best meals I had in Europe. The appetizers were refreshing. Coming from a family that has experienced a shiz-ton of vegetable variety, the salads were tangy, sweet, and warm. A perfect way to quell the rumblings of my stomach, as well as heighten the expectation of the main course. The duck that came with the prunes was surprisingly a bit too sweet for me. The dish itself was well seasoned, and the saltiness of the duck was pleasant against the prunes. However, the prunes that had subsequently exploded made things a bit of a sticky mess. Colorwise, the meal was pretty unappealing. It was…very dark. (the prunes started it…points). But it was what it was. And it was delicious. The second dish came out in a sort of mini-dutch oven (cute). Also delicious. My favorite dish of the day. The sweetbreads came out nice and tender, supplemented with the umami goodness of the mushrooms. Add that in with the richness from the cooked-in cream and pasty quality of the sweet potato…delicious.
Anywho, I was slightly disappointed in the fact that did not particularly enjoy the dish with prunes. Yeah, yeah… I should suck it up…but I’m gonna complain (not really) and all you’re gonna hear today is about prunes n’ dates. Cause’ it sounds good in a sentence. Stuff about dried fruit. Alright!
Lately, I’ve been on somewhat of a date craze. (No, not that kind of date craze. I don’t prefer to talk about my love life (or lack thereof)). Date craze being those dried things that are nature’s candy. They’re similar to prunes.
At the very core, prunes are plums that have been desiccated (dried). When being dried, the plum loses its moisture and as a result, it concentrates the sugars and acids that remain inside the fruit. A darker color is achieved as the fruit’s natural enzymes further break down the sugars, so they become highly concentrated. There’s also a degree of caramelization that occurs when the fruit enzymes are working. As the fruit’s subsequent molecules begin to get more and more concentrated, so do the phenolic and antioxidant compounds that are found within the fruit. This antioxidant capacity is what gives the prune its unique ability to pair so well in savory meat dishes. Because antioxidants are electron-radical intermediaries that can neutralize free radicals, it acts as a superb stabilizer of flavor. (Not to mention, eating them may produce a positive hormetic stress within our bodies, but that’s still out on the jury, and I’m no Ph.D). The research is there though. This could seriously be a post in itself.
Dates are similar to prunes (yeah they’re a fruit, and the same caramelization and browning effects happen between the sugars and proteins present in the date), but instead of being dried off the tree, dates are actually dried ON the tree, which is actually a new concept to me.
The loss of moisture while on the tree is the same as when fruit is dried off the branch; the only difference is that once off the tree, the date is a closed system. It no longer is receiving nutrients from its “roots” (which is basically the tree). I would suspect that drying on the tree would yield approximately the same product if it was dried off the tree. Perhaps some extra nutrient density and plant enzymes would be retained “on-tree”, but aside from that, it seems fairly similar.
What kind of methods are there nowadays to accomplish some fruit magic? (aka…drying fruits).
Air. Can’t live without it. This is essentially drying by evaporation. A slight “wind” or current will help speed up the drying process. As the water evaporates, the relative humidity of the evaporated water from the fruit is at the surface. A wind current will help physically remove the humidity away from the fruit, keeping the surface unsaturated, and relatively free of water molecules. And what do water molecules love more than space to move? Nothing. Water moves out of the fruit, gets whisked away…and the cycle continues. It’s like when bank robbers release hostages. The hostage walks out, is whisked away from the police, and the entrance of the bank is clear for more hostage-release. Sorry, crappy analogy. Maybe the drawing below can clear it up.
Sun. Let there be light! Simple evaporation. Water molecules eventually evaporate away from the fruit, as the heat energy from the sun provides kinetic energy, which promotes the movement of water molecules within the fruit. Nothing beats a nice tan.
Sugar (solution). The fruits are placed in a super-saturated sugar solution, and water from the fruit is subsequently drawn out by osmosis. Higher concentrations of sugar outside the fruit have a tendency to want water, as well as, be hygroscopic (water-absorbing). Sugar in fruit is less concentrated; sugar in solution is more concentrated. Water leaving fruit will make the sugar in fruit more concentrated, and make the sugar in the solution less concentrated. Yes, they’re heading towards equilibrium. Exciting. Science.
“Naturally.” Drying on the tree. I’d say it’s a combination of drying by the sun, and drying by wind current. Both are present in nature. It’s just more awesome for the plant, since it’s getting some drying going on, and still is leeching off the mother root (tree). It’s like 30-year olds living with their mothers. Okay, another bad analogy. Sorry. Nothing against…30-year olds living with their mothers.
Frying. When frying fruits, the water inside the fruit instantly boils, as the oil in which its fried in can approach temperatures around 400-450 degrees Fahrenheit. The bubbling that occurs is the water evaporating from the food itself. The water instantly boils, so steam heads up, out of the fat, and we get splattering. Be careful. You might end up with some greasy fruit.
I just ate a ton of dates again. I’m going to go pass out.